Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made it clear that he is against any 2021 celebrations to mark the 500th year that Christianity was brought to the Philippines by Portuguese explorers. He made these remarks in Naga City, Cebu, during a speech made at a groundbreaking ceremony for new houses to replace ones lost in a landslide.

Naga City is on the central Visayan island of Cebu near Cebu City. It is the second largest metropolitan area after Manila and has a population of about 3 million people. The Mactan–Mandaue Bridge (officially the Sergio Osmeña Bridge) links Cebu with Mactan island where Lapu Lapu City is located. And it is in Lapu Lapu where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first brought Christianity in the form of the Roman Catholic Church to the Philippine archipelago in 1521.

Magellan is credited with his well-known circumnavigation of the Earth, but he did not survive the complete journey back to Spain. He was killed in a skirmish with tribal warriors under the leadership of Lapu Lapu, the city’s namesake. In legend, Lapu Lapu personally killed Magellan with a poisoned arrow but that is open to speculation.

Magellan’s religion fared much better as today over 80 percent of the Philippines is Roman Catholic and splinters from a cross that Magellan planted are still preserved inside a larger cross that sits in a small chapel in Cebu City. The chapel is a popular tourist destination.

During his speech, Duterte asked, “Why would I give something for the celebration?” He continued, “When Magellan came here, he brought the cannon and the cross, but because the cross is there, the natives immediately embraced them.” He also said, “I am not a religious person, but I am a friend of God.”

A fisherman paddles his canoe past a fishing vessel during sunrise as the weather clears after continued rain brought by typhoon Morakot stopped in the central Philippine island of Cebu on Aug. 9, 2009. Reuters/Victor Kintanar

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia admitted that Duterte’s statement against celebrating five centuries of Christianity in the Philippines will impact any preparations. She also claims to understand the president’s sentiments and said, “You know he is so Filipino.” This may mean that Duterte prefers to honor Filipinos that were here before Magellan to celebrating a foreign intruder’s religion.

Garcia added, “It’s just wait and see now. The President has spoken. We will take our cue from there. 2021 is also one year before the end of Duterte’s presidential term.